Sweet Dreams, Sweet Sontaya…

Once again, I am sitting here broken-hearted. Our sweet old girl, Sontaya, who’s health had started to decline in recent weeks, has passed away.


Sontaya was such a gentle, sweet and loving soul. Her wisdom and grace, radiated from her beautiful, wrinkled (and hairy) face and everyone who had the honour of being in her presence, fell deeply in love with her.

We rescued Sontaya from a busy tourist camp in Pattaya, back in May 2016. Sontaya was thin and spent her days walking in circles, carrying heavy tourists on her protruding back bone. The nights did not provide much relief for Sontaya, as she was tied to a stake in the ground, on a very short chain, surrounded by piles of trash and burning dung and nothing to stare at but the numerous building sites and skyscrapers that litter the city of Pattaya.


When we were contacted by the owners, it was clear that they loved her very much and wanted to do the right thing by Sontaya and retire her to BLES. We set about raising the funds and over 300 people donated towards saving Sontaya – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/sontaya-needs-saving/

The elephant world was smitten with Sontaya and her rescue was a huge celebration – https://blesele.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/sontaya-is-home/

Sontaya was with us for five months. One of the hardest realities that BLES has to come to terms with every time we rescue an elderly elephant, is that they probably will not be with us for very long. This is exactly why we are 100% committed to ensuring every single day that passes, is filled with freedom, friendship, peace, respect and love.


Every single day with Sontaya was a gift.

Once again, we have been reminded that it isn’t about the length of time the elephants have with us… The most important thing, is that they are with us. That they get to live at least a small part of their life as they always should have. That they get to rediscover themselves and know what it is to be an elephant before they leave this world. This world, that has done so wrong by them… BLES is a sanctuary, but it is also my apology to the elephants. The first thing I say to an elephant that we find working in the tourism industry is, “I am so sorry” I founded BLES because I wanted to represent the human race and show the elephants how incredibly sorry we were for all we had done to them – snatching them from the wild, breaking their spirits, putting them to work, exploiting them and grinding them to death – just to name a few of the shameful things humans have done to elephants over the years….


I had been away from BLES for two days on business and on the morning I was due back, I had frantic messages from Sontaya’s mahout, Dom, asking me to call. I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong with Sontaya and jumped in the car and started driving home. I spoke to David and Phi Sot, who said through tears, that Sontaya was weak and clearly letting go. I burst in to tears, told the driver to hurry and started praying for Sontaya.

As soon as I arrived at BLES, I went to Sontaya’s side. She was lying peacefully on the grass and there were no signs of her being stressed or struggling. The mahouts had rigged up some shade for her and I sat with her, rubbing my hands over her hollow temples, her kind face and down her soft trunk, whispering to her to let go. I told her how loved she was, how sorry I was and told her again, to let go… Sontaya took a deep breath and then did just that – she let go.


We were all with her when she passed. Dom, her devoted and now heartbroken mahout, Phi Sot, our head mahout, David, my assistant and myself – we sat on the grass, surrounded by nature, surrounding Sontaya with as much love and respect as we could. She left this world knowing she was adored and appreciated and I think that is what we would ask for in our final moments of life.

Sontaya has been buried on the hill, behind Naamfon and Sao Noi. We sprinkled flowers petals in to her grave and over her body and Dom laid out an elaborate fruit feast for our darling Sontaya.


The funeral was so moving and so fitting for our sweet old girl. As the monks chanted, our tears were kissed in sympathy by raindrops. As I sat, breathing in the smell of the rain, I closed my eyes and visualised Sontaya walking through the thick, long grass before us. Despite my tears and my heartache, I smiled, because at long last, Sontaya was truly free.


Walk on Sontaya: Walk through the fields and forests and be free. Thank you for allowing us to be just a small piece of your long life. We will love you forever and I will think of you everyday, until the day we are reunited, as I watch the sunset over BLES.


Sleep well sweet girl… Sweet dreams Sontaya xx











  1. Mike Povey · October 2, 2016

    Poor darling angel. It seems so unfair that after a life of unrelenting hardship she should have less than 6 months of freedom and love. Such a sweet soul. You are truly free now. Sleep well beautiful lady ….🐘💔

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbro Dahlberg · October 2, 2016

    Precious girl I hope you are in the Rainbow Land with Naamfon and Sao Noi and is for ever free. I´m glad you did have some happy months before you left and learns to know lot´s of love. RIP dear angel Sontaya.


  3. alix · October 2, 2016



  4. Cambridge Rat Mom · October 2, 2016

    I have no idea what to say. It has been such an overwhelming time for you at BLES. You and all your mahouts and eles and family are in my thoughts. Katherine, you have the steely determination to do this work with the joys and heartaches it brings. It’s your choice and it is an honorable choice. I applaud you for everything you do. One day at a time. Sei umarmt. (Be hugged.)


  5. Patty Taylor · October 2, 2016

    BLES deals with so much heartache and sorrow, yet you continue on- much love and respect to all of you! RIP sweet,sweet Sontaya. We all loved you, dear girl….


  6. Laura Jackson · October 2, 2016

    She is now TRULY Free – Thank you for giving her love & rest for a little while – I lost my baby Mocha yesterday – I feel your pain of having to let go – but I feel your joy of having loved them & they will know no more pain – we will see you when we get there Mocha & Sontaya !!


  7. Deirdre · October 2, 2016

    This was very painful to read, but so beautifully written. And, again, I am so grateful to you Katherine, not only for opening a home and refuge to the elephants, but providing a place for these men,the mahouts to express such kindness and tenderness to God’s creatures. I thank them for showing the elephants another side of human nature. Love and appreciation to all and much sympathy to all of you. I can only imagine how much grief is at BLES this week. I pray for strength and comfort for all of you.


  8. Pam · October 2, 2016

    I’m so sorry for your loss.


  9. Jennifer Leigh Evans · October 2, 2016

    What a beautiful sendoff. I am so sorry she is gone, but so happy she is free.


  10. Donna · October 2, 2016

    through tears allI can say right now is THANK YOU for showing her such greta love, respect and peace. You represent the human race so beautifully. From this human and her family …thank you.


  11. sandra · October 2, 2016

    Goodbye beautiful one. Even though you only had months of freedom your story and your image have been shared all over the world. You are truly mourned and did not die unloved and unknown. X


  12. patty · October 2, 2016

    Crying so hard!! But am so Thankful that she was with you all !!! Please know that prayers and good thoughts are being sent your way. Please let Dom know are hearts are with him and sending him many hugs his way.


  13. Luuk · October 2, 2016

    I’m in tears reading this. I am so sorry. My deepest condolances and love to all of you caring.


  14. frontporchwoman · October 2, 2016

    Such sweet, wise creatures. I offer my tears upon reading this, for all the elephants waiting for relief.


  15. Dana Hamilton · October 3, 2016

    that is soooo sad!!!!! I love all animals,they deserve so much more than they usually get!


  16. betty · October 3, 2016

    Now you are free ……….


  17. Deedee · October 25, 2016

    From being involved in rescue for 17 years in the States, I have noticed that many animals in highly abusive situations hang on and on and on; but once they are rescued and are safe, they know it and they finally let go.


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